Missouri lawmakers are looking at a resolution to establish a transportation task force. The group would be charged with evaluating the condition of the state highway system and determining what its funding needs are.
A document under examination, known as House Concurrent Resolution 47, claims Missouri roads are aging and under financed.
Republican Kevin Corlew of Kansas City is sponsoring the measure. He thinks it’s important to engage the entire state to find out what needs to be done, and to figure out the cost.
“The goal of this task force will be, on the one hand, finding out what the need is” said Corlew. “And then secondly, being able to get citizen involvement, stakeholder involvement and official involvement in crafting a plan to achieve that objective so that we move our highway system forward.”
The task force would include nine residents as well as four lawmakers, the governor and agency heads over transportation, economic development and the highway patrol.
In its current form, the resolution calls for the Republican leaders in the House and Senate to appoint two members each to the task force.
While introducing his resolution during a hearing of the House Transportation Committee, Corlew said he would seek to have a third appointee from each chamber that would be a Democrat, in the interest of advancing the task force as a bipartisan group.
The task force would hold public hearing across the state to gather information. It would then draw conclusions and send a report to the legislature at the beginning of next year.
Committee Chairman Bill Reiboldt (R-Neosho) praised Corlew for his work on the resolution, noting transportation funding is on the minds of all the panel’s members.
“We’re needing to, in my mind, get our ducks in a row this year, and study the problem, and then come forward next legislative session with something concrete that we can all agree on and move ahead” said Reiboldt.
Among those testifying in favor of the resolution was Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna, who fielded a number of questions from lawmakers.
Like he has on numerous occasions, McKenna stated the need to increase spending to keep pace with other states. He contends funding needs to be boosted by $500 million per-year just to maintain roads and make safety improvements.
McKenna links the shortage to user fees which, outside of federal dollars, are the main source for financing Missouri’s highways. He says those fees – which are fuel taxes, registration and licensing fees, and motor vehicle sales taxes – have fallen behind over the years.
“The gas tax hasn’t been increased, as a rate, in twenty years” said McKenna. “And some of the other fees that are a primary sources for funding haven’t been updated since the 1960’s. Just the purchasing power degradation does not enable us procure the same amount of construction and upgrades that we could 20 years ago.”
While noting how economic development is dependent on functioning transportation, committee member Bob Burns (D-Affton) brought up the state’s robust agricultural industry as a beneficiary. He also mentioned road upgrades he sees as helping key St. Louis businesses, such as Edward Jones Investments.
“The point I’m getting at is Missouri can be the economic capitol of this country with everything we have going on” said Burns. “And upgrading roads and bridges will absolutely compliment that.”
With the current arrangement, improving the state’s highway system could be difficult. Missouri has the seventh biggest road and bridge system in the country, but ranks 47th in revenue per mile.
At $50,000, Missouri’s revenue per mile is about a third of what neighboring Iowa generates, and less than 25 percent of the national average of $216,000 per mile. New Jersey generates $1.7 million per mile.
Missouri voters have rejected a number large spending packages to upgrade roads in recent years. Corlew is hoping a new concerted effort can change public perception of the need to find money to address highways.
He thinks a Blue Ribbon Commission in 2012 made headway in identifying some problems and offering some choices to fix them. He now wants the state to take the next step with a transportation task force.
“I think what’s needed now, for this legislature, is some actual proposals” said Corlew. “Here’s what we can do, and here’s what we recommend doing, based upon the involvement and input from Missourians.”